Success Happens One Seedling at a Time

Cone hunter at work collecting seeds for reforestation. Rust-resistant sugar pine seeds are used when replanting our forests. The USDA nursery in Placerville grew 3.2 million seedlings for reforestation efforts last year. The Placerville nursery, run by the U.S. Forest Service, helps to reforest areas affected by large scale wildland fires. This cone kiln dries out forest cones so the seeds can be released and processed. Hope comes in the color green.



Regrowing a forest, following a wildland fire, starts in the most unusual fashion.  Tree climbers trained in cone collection scale tall trees throughout National Forest Lands and collect pine cones ripe with seed.  Bushels of the cones are then sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture nursery in Placerville where they are processed, from kiln drying the cones, to shaking out the forest debris, to x-raying the seeds in order to check for viability.  Boxes of seed are held in cold storage at zero degrees for up to ten years,  mimicking winter conditions on the Forest.  When needed, these seeds are then germinated and grown into sapling sized trees that are used to reforest areas that have been impacted by fire. 

Last year, the nursery grew 3.2 million seedlings for just that purpose.    By 2017, the Stanislaus National Forest will be the recipient of many of these nursery trees which will be used to reforest a portion of the land burned by the Rim Fire.  Time is needed to get the saplings tall and hardy enough to survive the competitive environment of our wild lands. 

Successful reforestation is already in the mix and it starts with the nursery staff that carefully tends thousands of small trees knowing that in their hands lies our next forest. 

“Getting trees back on the ground is an important part of the recovery process,” said Marty Gmelin, Forest sivilculturist.  “Trees help to stabilize the landscape by lessening erosion.  That equates to better drinking water downstream.” 

For many Mother Lode residents, hope comes in the color green.   Forest personnel and a dedicated community are bringing that dream to reality, but it takes time and planning.  This winter, an open house will occur allowing interested stakeholders an opportunity to offer valuable feedback on the reforestation plan that is currently under development.  In the meantime, our future forest is placed in the capable hands of the nursery staff that is busy sorting, planting and watering our seeds. 

Removing the fire-killed trees was a necessary step in preparing the ground for tree planting.  Since May, one million board feet of salvageable wood has been logged on the Forest each day.  That equals about 200 truckloads of burned trees leaving the Forest daily since operations began.  Site preparation needs to occur before seedlings can be put in the ground.  Removing dead wood, that can fuel intense fires later, helps to ensure the survival of the newly planted saplings. 

 “Regrowing our nation’s forests following wildfires like the Rim Fire is truly one of the greatest joys of my job,” says Sara Wilson, Forestry  Technician, who works at the Placerville nursery.  “At the nursery, success happens one seedling at a time.”